Mindful Movement – A Healthier Relationship with Our Bodies and Exercise

As a therapist who works with clients who have eating disorders, disordered eating and body image issues, I hear many of my clients talk about hitting the gym, finding ways to burn more calories, etc. Ever since the New Year, my clients have talked about taking off the extra pounds they gained over the holidays. Their solutions are exercise and restrictive dieting. Many of them complain that although they’ve resolved to go to the gym more often, they really haven’t gone because they are “lazy,” “tired” or “too busy.”

Could the problem really be that going to the gym feels like punishment for them, and it’s not really fun?

I often ask my clients what kind of movement they enjoy. While they like some exercises, they answer me with a lot of “shoulds” — “I should work out more often.” “I should work out harder.” “I should do more arm work to get rid of my flab.” All of these “shoulds” have a down side. They are de-motivating, especially if you don’t enjoy the exercise you “should” be doing.

Lastly, there is the negative self-talk that I hear from so many of my clients: “I feel too heavy in my body,” “I’m eating too many carbs,” “I’m not fit enough.” Also de-motivating.

To help reframe their mindset, I push my clients to think about movement instead of exercise, and focus on enjoyment rather than burning calories. I introduce the term “mindful movement” in sessions, as a way of having my clients develop a healthier and different relationship with their bodies and exercise in general.

What is mindful movement?

Mindful movement is about being fully present in our bodies while moving. It’s about experiencing any bodily sensations which arise — good, bad or neutral. When we are mindful, we maintain focused attention on each movement, not attaching ourselves to the negative and distracting chatter that goes on in our heads. When we move in a mindful way, we are fully connected with our bodies. It can be fun or sometimes painful, but most importantly, we feel it!

My clients often ask me what I do for exercise. I tell them that I love to move, and that I incorporate movement into each and every day. Many of my friends, colleagues, and some clients see me walking to and from work. I also love spinning classes and yoga. My most gratifying form of movement is walking along the beach, listening to the surf, and feeling the soft sand beneath my feet. Movement is a way for me to exercise, as well as connect with my body, nature, and my environment.

Rather than sitting in my office and talking about moving, I often suggest to my clients that we go out and take a mindful walk. Sometimes we do therapy while we walk. I am also sensitive to the fact that some clients are compromised physically and experience a lot of pain when they move. If this is the case, we adjust and find ways to incorporate movement and exercise that feel comfortable and good for them.

As a result, they tend to feel better and appreciate their bodies more. They focus less on beating themselves up over things like holiday weight gain. It’s really quite marvelous to watch their transformation.

The power of mindful movement

I recently started attending a wonderful yoga class called Shakti Flow, taught by two of my esteemed colleagues, Jennifer Rego and Ashley Bade. Not only is the class super fun and fulfilling, it enables me to feel alive and connected to my body. I have been to the class twice, and both times I reveled in the experience of sharing this joyous movement with other women in the class who were having fun, laughing, and moving without being concerned about how they looked. There was no talk about burning calories, building muscle, or sweating. Rather, it was about having fun and feeling good in one’s body. That is what mindful movement is all about.

“Shakti Flow is an invigorating practice that fuses dance, Vinyasa yoga, meditation, and functional fitness. Shakti translated from Sanskrit means empowerment. The translation is a direct embodiment of my message in private practice as well as my ideas of feeling well in my own body. My co-teacher Ashley Bade and I both believe that this joyful movement can be a tool to access body empowerment, acceptance, and freedom. Our class is designed to incorporate body positivity, freedom to move and encouragement of all body types and shapes and fitness levels.” — Jennifer Rego

Jennifer and Ashley use a foundation of self-care in their class as they hope to help heal self-criticism, and remove rigid requirements for movement, or anything that counteracts the freedom of moving and feeling good in one’s body. If you attend one of their classes, you will see a lot of moving, shaking, dancing to music, and Vinyasa Flow throughout the entire practice. There is no judgment, only encouragement.

Jennifer and Ashley teach at MetroBest Yoga in Framingham, Massachusetts, once a month. If you are in the area, I encourage you to try a class and see if you like it. The next class is Sunday, April 8th from 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM. You can learn more at: http://metrowcc.com/events/shakti-flow/.

Before I wrap up, I welcome you all to look inward, ask yourself what kind of movement you enjoy and how you can more effectively connect with your body. Ask the negative self-talk to take a hike while you try a different kind of movement, or just focus on incorporating more mindfulness into your daily exercise routine. Walk, bike ride, do yoga, or take a dance class. As long as you have fun, it’s well worth it!


Karen Chinca - LICSW | Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Wellness - Brookline MAAbout Karen Chinca: Karen Chinca is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) located in Brookline, Massachusetts, with over ten years of experience in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for treating individuals and families who are dealing with academic, personal, and professional stress.